Kiffin won't settle

As National Signing Day came to a close, the dust settled but Tennessee's head coach didn't.

Lane Kiffin refused to settle for marginal prospects, even though he knew the Vols needed a significant infusion of talent for their offensive line. After all, UT is losing Anthony Parker and Ramon Foster this year, then will say goodbye to Chris Scott, Vladimir Richard, Josh McNeil, Jacques McClendon and Cody Sullins next year.

It gets worse, too. Rising junior Ramone Johnson recently was dismissed and rising sophomore Darris Sawtelle is somewhat suspect after missing two seasons due to shoulder surgeries.

Considering how shaky UT's O-line situation is, most observers figured Kiffin would bolster the depth by signing four or five offensive linemen this year. He didn't. He wound up with only two – Kevin Revis (Evensville) and JerQuari Schofield (Aiken, S.C.).

Given the value of depth in the offensive line, Kiffin had to be tempted to lower his standards a bit and sign some marginal line prospects ... right?

"It was tempting," the head man conceded. "But we kept going back to 'Let's not take guys just to make the class look better ... to get a better ranking.' We didn't do any of that. We were very selective.

"We could've signed a few more guys just to have some bodies but you don't win games in the long run doing that. You may sign a guy to have a body just because he helps you out in depth. Well, that guy's there for five years. He may help you out with some depth but the guy never ends up playing, and the guy's there for five years."

Tennessee's depth at defensive tackle – like its depth in the offensive line – is perilously thin. Even so, the Vols signed selectively in this area, as well. They reeled in just two prospects, Montori Hughes (Murfreesboro) and Arthur Jeffery (Sarasota, Fla.), with Jeffery likely to sit out 2009 following knee surgery.

When asked why he didn't bring in some warm bodies to bolster the depth in both lines, recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron echoed Kiffin's comments almost verbatim.

"If you take a chance on a young man and he can't play, you have him for five years," Orgeron said. "I would rather not take a chance and get a guy that can play."

If Tennessee has enough offensive linemen and defensive tackles to squeeze by in 2009, Kiffin and Orgeron will look awfully smart. If not, they'll hear plenty of second-guessing. Either way, Kiffin believes his refusal to settle for marginal prospects will pay off in the long run.

"I feel great about how our approach was," he said, noting that his staffers were determined "not to make mistakes or just do things for a quick fix, for right now, and to always keep in mind the long term."


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